By: Jonna Higgins-Freese, Program Director-New Product Development

When kids are struggling academically, parents struggle too.

Recently, ACT’s New Product Development has been interacting with a lot of such parents as we test out a new tool, currently called ACT Marketplace, that’s designed to help parents find and identify high quality learning resources relevant to their child’s needs.

In over thirty interviews with parents of kids who are struggling with reading and math, parents say they feel helpless, even desperate. If they can afford it, they switch schools or hire private tutors. Some ask their child’s teacher for advice. Some don’t find that useful. Many sit down and work with their children on school work every evening; others wish they could do that, but struggle to find time between work and other child care commitments. Or they search Google, where they struggle to sort out the flashy from the functional and determine how to help their child.

These parents want to find help for their kids – but they are not teachers. They don’t have (or didn’t start with) detailed knowledge about teaching, learning, and their child’s needs.
One father of a fifth grade girl who struggles in math told us, “We do homework [every night] at the kitchen table. I help her through her math and go back and check it. We talk through [anything she struggles with]. It’s time consuming. It’s a lot of work, but necessary. As a parent, it just is what you have to do.”

Still, many parents aren’t satisfied with the results. The mother of a fifth grader who struggles in math and reading told us, “I’m kind of grasping for resources; I’m not sure how reliable they are.”

And that’s where ACT Marketplace comes in. ACT’s Innovative Research Design & Consultation team has identified an initial set of products. “There are so many products out there,” says Dr. Pamela Paek, principal research scientist. “We want to provide a short list of products that are relevant to the needs of struggling students, to save parents from the frustration and time spent in the exhaustive searches they do on their own.”
In the current version, recommendations are made based on the child’s level, subject area, and the parent’s description of the child’s needs In addition, ACT Next’s team of data analysts will review usage and learning data to refine the tool.

One parent whose fifth grade daughter struggles with math used ACT Marketplace and said, “I wish that this was a service when we were initially looking [for resources]. To be able to have all this information would have been a time saver.”

ACT Marketplace is available today to parents and teachers who want to use or recommend the tool. Education technology vendors who would like to propose a product for inclusion can contact Jonna.Higgins-Freese@act.org.